On Sunday, I met a cowboy.
For those of you who live in the New England area, you know how genuinely rare it is to meet a real cowboy up here. I’m talking boots, heavy accent, friendly, big hat, and he just bought twenty acres over the river from us and is planning to run a horse ranch and teach Western-style riding.
I think that is incredibly interesting, even though I really can’t relate to him at all, he was part of the 5% of people who talked to me at work whom I enjoyed talking to. As most things do, It got me thinking about the way I write. Every writer wants a character that is relatable, but every book has a host of characters. We tend to write the characters that are the most relatable to ourselves, or for our target audience, but lots of times we forget about culture. I’m not talking pop-culture here – referencing that can be dangerous – I’m talking overall culture. There are a lot of pieces that make each group of people unique, things that are timeless. Yes, it’s easy to fall into stereotypes, but to be frank… some of those stereotypes can be true, and are acceptable as long as a.) you don’t use them all; and b.) you use them respectfully. My cowboy said “y’all”. And he’s looking to build a ranch. In New England, we have farms, but that’s our culture, not his. It’s okay to reach into something scary and unfamiliar for your characters!
That said, some rules of thumb:
- Research: Know your target culture and do not rely on the well-known stereotypes. Yes, they’re there for a reason. But there’s so much more!
- Respect: Nobody likes to feel mocked.
- Appropriate Use: Be sure that you’re using the language, especially, correctly. Those who actually enjoys Shakespeare can tell (and get annoyed) when they hear someone mimicking it, saying something like, “Wouldst thou goest toest thest moviest withest me thou?” Inappropriate use is insulting to your readers’ intelligence… and makes you look like an idiot.
These things should be relevant to the writing of any character, but become that much more important when it’s for a culture that you are less familiar with. While it may be okay for you and you friends to joke around about a rodeo, someone who actually rides wild broncos may not find your levity so funny, so keep it real and professional.
For myself, I actually have a cowgirl-character in The Sin Series, who doesn’t enter for a few more books, but I hope that the cowboy sticks around, because there is no better teacher of culture than an actual person (sorry Wikipedia).
Happy writing, and happy weekend!